The Federal Communications Commission's attempt Thursday to place the fast-moving broadband and Internet industry under a regulatory regime designed for monopoly-era telephone service is as misguided as it is puzzling. It's a government bureaucracy searching for a problem that doesn't exist. Is my, or your, Internet service provider perfect? Of course not. We all have complaints about Comcast or AT&T or whoever your provider is. But will more government make your Web surfing experience better, faster or cheaper? Not a chance.
The FCC plan actually risks slowing investment and innovation in broadband, meaning consumers could face slower Internet speeds and higher prices.
Internet consumers should be cautiously optimistic about the FCC's net neutrality plan, says Megan Tady at Free Press.
At first blush, the idea that ISPs should be required to give every application equal treatment, one of the main motives behind "net neutrality," sounds fair. But let's start with Internet browsing. The FCC wants to limit or prevent ISPs like AT&T or Comcast from differentiating a customer who downloads large, network-hogging videos all day from someone who simply browses news websites and sends e-mail. In this net neutrality world, the big, bulky downloads and applications will end up eating up most of the bandwidth space and stifling access to smaller, less-bandwidth-intensive applications.
Thus, the very access for everyday people and small websites that advocates want to protect will actually be diminished.
The FCC also wants more control over your cell phone, and more regulations will arise as the Internet increasingly goes mobile through devices like the iPhone. The FCC wants a say in what Apple does, what Google does, how apps work together or with your phone, where and how an ISP and application provider work together. That level of micromanagement from government bureaucrats is a disaster in the making for an always-changing, rapidly evolving tech industry.
There are countless other ways the FCC is about to get involved in our lives:
Away from home and want to use your laptop to set your DVR to record the finale of "Lost"? Not if the FCC places restrictions on the way cable companies can link set-top box features to broadband Internet connections.
Want to turn on your house alarm remotely with your cell phone? Not if the FCC prevents or regulates service bundling or co-branding between broadband ISPs and alarm companies.
These are just two examples of consumer-friendly services that are available today. They arose out of the unregulated broadband ecosystem that could now be subjected to FCC intrusiveness if the agency gets its way.
There's no telling where else the government might demand jurisdiction. Going forward, when an ISP wants to develop and introduce an Internet service or feature it will have to be concerned about whether it will run afoul of, or draw scrutiny from, the FCC.
And more regulation means higher costs. As a result, many tech companies will be less likely to innovate and will build less broadband infrastructure. So instead of Internet speeds that have continued to grow, the government's net neutrality plans could stall future advancements and lead to deteriorating broadband infrastructure in some parts of the country.
Ultimately, any costs that tech companies and ISPs do incur from FCC meddling will be passed on to us, the end users. So we can probably expect higher bills, and perhaps all those surcharges and administrative fees found on phone bills will apply to our Internet service, too.
Bottom line: No matter what the information, the faster it is allowed to move and the easier it is for people, businesses and government agencies to link it together to produce value, the better it is for everyone. Until this week, even the FCC expressly understood and endorsed this approach.
Telephone service is about one-to-one connection. Broadband is about many-to-many interconnections. That's why the FCC separated the two to begin with. Constraining broadband with rules that applied to another service in another era can't help but end up as a policy disaster.
Steven Titch is a telecom policy analyst at Reason Foundation. This column first appeared at AOLNews.com.